In the heart of the Eastern Cape, the last couple of decades have witnessed something of a quiet revolution. It is one which has brought prosperity and abundance through the use of technology. Farmer’s yields are on the up, with more than a helping hand from Cradock Saad.
The company is based in Cradock, and was formed around 24 years ago by current Managing Director Dirk Visser:
“We are distributors of fertilizer, chemical pesticides, chemical insecticides and fungus killers and seed wholesalers. We provide a professional service from farmer to farmer, with the aim of producing better yields and production – but in a manner which will be sustainable for generations to come.
“We undertake precision farming (in conjunction with Technifarm) and provide a whole farming assistance through irrigation, the spreading of fertilizer, ground analysis and the spraying of chemicals, right the way through to selling grain on behalf of the farmer once the harvest has taken place.”
Visser started Cradock Saad 24 years ago with a partner, having previously worked in the chemicals industry with Coopers Veterinary and Bayer Chemicals. Having worked as a hugely successful chemical rep (Visser was in the top 5 sales people for 5 years running), selling veterinary and agrochemical products, he decided the time was right to set out with his own business.
“After a few years I bought my partner out and then later on, Profert Holdings bought a 30 per cent stake in our business,” he recalls.
Of course the ensuing 24 years have seen monumental changes in the agricultural industry on the Eastern Cape. Science and technology have brought tremendous success to the region’s farmers, as Visser explains:
“Technology is here big-time. Today we use probes in the soil that help to calculate water schedules – and each farmer’s land has different requirements. We use GSP technology and there is no way we can successfully work without a lap top or i-Pad today.
“The advancements over the past 24 years have been fantastic and nowadays we have more information, of a better quality, which is received in a much quicker time period. If there is a problem in a field you can pinpoint the problem almost immediately, which takes so much time and stress out of it.
“Perhaps the best indication of the progress made comes in the volumes of crop yield; 24 years ago average yields were around 8 tonnes and it took 2 to 3 years to build up the nutrient levels and reach the 10 tonne club. Today we are pushing farmers towards 20 tonnes a year.
“All of this technology means that you know the soils better and results in better quality and quantity for the farmer. We can improve the water scheduling, get the fertilizer levels right first time and provide nutrients and chemicals when the plant needs it.”
Cradock Saad operates in a highly competitive environment, but Visser says that the close attention to detail and the constant communication between farmer and agent has given his business an enviable reputation:
“We currently provide a service to 280 farmers across the Eastern Cape and that is a number that is on the up. I would say we have enjoyed one hell of a growth and we are at full capacity at this stage, so we have become more specialized.
“There is lots of competition out there but I feel that we deliver a better service and the people like the service that we provide.”
That service increasingly involves creating an agricultural environment that is sustainable for future generations. Whilst Cradock Saad is assisting the farmer to obtain better yields, this is not done at the expense of the land, with biological methodology providing a long-term farming solution that Visser believes will last at least 100 years.
The Eastern Cape is a vast expanse of land and Visser relies on 3 agents to cover farms across the region, checking in regularly with each customer to ensure each stage of the growing cycle is meticulously planned and executed.
A number of cooperatives and buying groups helps out with the distribution of seeds, fertilizers and chemicals and Cradock Saad operates a fleet of 7 trucks currently, with an eighth truck due to arrive in the next month.
Visser runs a tight ship, with 11 staff involved in the sales and administration arm of the company 7 truck drivers and 15 employees involved in loading, storage and packaging.
The seasonal nature of farming has been to a degree mitigated by the additional services that the company has added over the years, meaning the relationship with the farmer is maintained all year round.
Ensuring vehicles and machinery do not break down is of course an essential element to the company’s success and Visser employs a full-time mechanic and operates a workshop on the premises.
“Our maintenance takes place throughout the year and one of the secrets to staying successful is to keep your hand on the product all the way. Spreading fertilizer or spraying chemicals means we stay in touch with our clients and it is very important to keep the equipment in good condition given the sensitive nature of timing.
“These activities have helped us to grow and the biggest aspect of our business is service, service, service,” Visser enthuses.
“It is also vital that we know our customers’ crops and understand their needs; you can’t be a salesman unless you know the farmer’s product. The farmers in this area predominately grow cereal crops like maize, wheat, barley, rye, oats and soya; but this is also a big area for dairy farming and Cradock Saad also provides dairy livestock feed.”
Covering such a broad area of land, it comes as little surprise that Visser cites delivery of the product at the right time, as a key operational challenge:
“I do the ordering and management myself, while the agents are involved in the day to day care of the farmer,” he confirms.
It is a formula that works well and has been enhanced by the involvement of Profert Holdings over the last year, as Visser outlines:
“Profert’s arrival has given us a broader way of doing business and has introduced new clients also. They have brought in precision farming and farming equipment like tractors and trailers which have assisted operations and we are now able to deliver a broader range of services that should aid customer retention.”
That should in turn help Cradock Saad to continue its own growth long into the future. Visser is currently embroiled in purchasing a new blender which will enable the company to supply individually tailored chemical solutions for each farm, depending on the soil needs. The machinery will be able to cope with between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes per year and should be fully operational by July time.
The fleet of trucks will remain an integral part of the company’s success and upgrades take place every 4 to 5 years.
Commercially, Visser is unable to control the fluctuations in grain price; these of course can impact on the economic feasibility of business – particularly with fuel prices seemingly forever on the rise.
However, Visser is content with the overall picture as he surveys Cradock Saad’s future:
“Our aim is still to let the farmer make the most money possible, while creating an environment of sustainable farming. This concept is going to get bigger and we want to grow with it.”